Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Lesson (And Several Other Things)

When I last left off with O's continual story, I had been able to long line and then drive her hot speedy self down the road following our two weeks off. Following this, she had a day off, and then I long lined her again on Saturday. One minor unforseen problem cropped up though that I honestly just hadn't ever given a second thought to before: the wind. What does the wind have to do with long lining your horse, you might ask?

Well, I'll tell you. In Texas, we have four seasons: Hot, Fire, Wind, and Tarantulas. These seasons can come together in groups of two, or three, or even all four, or they can come as singles. They can come just in a day, or in an afternoon, or even in just an hour. Forget Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall - they do not apply to Texas. 

On Saturday, it was Wind season. It was steadily blowing at 40+mph, aided by the big stretch of prairie land behind us. Normally I don't even notice things like that anymore, but that day there was an unforseen consequence to it - the driving lines are super lightweight. Therefore, when caught by the wind, they started whipping around in the air - didn't matter if the contact was tight or loose, because if it was loose it flapped, and if it was tight it vibrated hard. The consequence to this was that poor O thought she was being whipped in the butt repeatedly by the lines. There was nowhere on the entire property that was immune from the wind - it howled no matter where we went. Poor O kept jumping forward, thinking I was spanking her on purpose even though she was doing nothing wrong. Eventually I just had to give up, end on a good note, and put her up. Lesson learned - I will not be long lining her in a strong wind ever again!

She had Sunday off due to time constraints, and then Monday I long lined her again, this time with no howling wind. She was excellent, quiet and responsive. Long lining is a really great tool that I don't use nearly enough, but really should. You do all of the things that you do with a cart, you're on the ground. You can easily work on smoothing out things that are challenging in the cart - for instance, backing her and then going forward again. She is understanding how to back up now, and is doing it very well, but she tends to get stuck in creeping reverse mode, where even when you say "whoa" or "walk on", she still takes a few creeping backward steps. Being the excellent girl that she is, if she does this on the ground I can step up to her butt and put a hand on her to stop her and reinforce my "whoa". (Obviously I can't recommend that with other beasts as it's not a very safe thing to do!) I can also come up to her and pet her and scratch her when she has done a good thing, something that can't really be done from the box seat. 

Also, you should all be SUPER jealous of O's AMAZING new halter. Traditional leather-only type folks are probably going to have a heartattack when they see this, but O now has a custom mule tape halter, navy and baby blue colored. I have wanted one of these FOREVER. It is so, so soft, and so pretty. I love it!

Tuesday was a milestone, and was super awesome with some super bad moments interspersed in the middle. A driving friend that I made locally invited me to come drive at her place and have a lesson with W, a trainer that I previously thought I'd never be able to work with due to distance. L is another newer whip so she and I have become friends, bouncing ideas back and forth to each other for the past few months. When she offered a chance for me to come out to her place I jumped on it! 

In the morning, I fed the mares and left them to munch hay while I loaded up my cart. This was really going to be the true test - I had taken the cart for a drive while it was in the bed, just to make sure it didn't fly out, but I hadn't gone anywhere far. I ratcheted it down with a million straps, crossed my fingers, gave O her Ulcergard and Pro CMC, loaded up, and headed out. 
Thankfully, I needn't have worried - it didn't budge an inch the entire drive. It was super secure! Easy in, easy out, and I have a warrenty on the winch should anything happen to it within the next year. So much success!!

We arrived at L's place around 9:30, and I let O out to eat hay while I unloaded the cart - or well, I parked her in front of her haybag and said a silent thanks to the gods of Ulcergard, because she was only interested in staring at All The Things and fidgeting instead of eating. I ended up having to stick her on the lunge to trot out some of the willies before we harnessed - she was quiet but fixedly convinced that the draft mule next door was an evil scary beast. I don't think she had ever seen a mule before, much less one that was galloping and snorting. Back at the trailer, she munched hay while we harnessed up and headed out to the field. 

Going over show rules before the lesson

I have to say, I was impressed with how chilled out she was. She marched into the field like she owed the place, and got right down to work. She got right to it, was supple and forward, and had a really good warmup. We then halted and stood around for awhile while Bob the pony did his dressage test.

When I picked her back up, we went and walked for awhile, and then went to go do our test. At that point, she was extremely quiet, lazy, and not very well connected. I usually take that for what it is (AKA yay you're quiet and not super hot/wild, I'll take it) and bebopped with little fanfare through our dressage test. W said at the end that she just didn't have enough forward motion, enough sparkle. I went to try and run through it again, with more forward motion - but I had none. She thought we had finished long ago, and was not interested in going through it yet again. Usually a quiet cluck sends her shooting forward at warp speed, so I use clucking judiciously when I really need it - but I had no response. I'd cluck, and she'd shudder all over like she had heard me, but didn't choose to respond by going any more forward. I clucked, and clucked, and she shuddered and poked along. I tapped her with the whip, she shuddered and poked along. I clucked louder. This was the point where she decided that she had had enough, and gave me the giant horse middle finger: she bucked. And she bucked HIGH. She bucked so very high that when she came back down, one of her hind feet smashed the rein rail on the dashboard of the cart, and bent it.

Oh HELL NO. That is a cardinal sin when you are between the shafts. She has never once done that before - never even given a single indication that it was something she'd ever even consider. Had I ever thought it would EVER be something she'd EVER do, I would have put a kick strap on her. (And from now on, she'll wear one for every drive. It's a strap that runs from one shaft over the top of the rump to the other shaft - if they try to buck, they can't physically do it, because they'd have to lift the entire weight of the cart.) As a side note: if O was a regular bucker I would never have bothered to break her to drive. If she was a kicker I wouldn't have done it either. If she did either with any regularly, I wouldn't drive her either. This is the first time in two years that she has bucked while being driven (or ridden!) - she bucks like a maniac every single day in her paddock while playing, but never ever gave any suggestion to do it while working. As it stands, she is a horse and horses do horse things - just because she hadn't ever done it before doesn't mean that's a guarantee that this would never have happened.  With a kick strap in place I can keep any future incidents from causing major trouble. 
To her credit, the noise of the impact did not frighten or upset her (I've seen videos of some spectacular wrecks where the horse kicked the cart and then scared itself half to death). She didn't kick out in any way either, just set herself up for the buck, bucked once, and then came back down. I was so surprised by it that I hauled her to a stop, backed her, and then sent her strongly onward into a tight circle. She was mad by this point, and tried to canter, shaking her head and plowing strongly into the contact. After fighting with her for a minute about her wanting to grab the bit and zoom off, I pulled her out of the dressage ring and set her butt to work for several minutes, darting back and forth from a tight left circle to a tight right circle, back and forth and back and forth in small figure 8's. She quit grabbing the bit and pulling, and settled into a rhythm, back and forth and back and forth like she was hypnotized. Once I felt that she was finally listening and responding, we went back into the dressage ring and did the test over. She was sharply attentive this time, listening to any requests for more forward movement without jumping too hard at them, and really paying attention in her transitions. I thought she might be fidgety and hot when halted, as she tends to get, but she was stock still and attentive, actually waiting for me to ask her to move off. She was a bit above the contact and not very connected during this run through the test, but the fact that she was listening attentively made that less important. 

I think there is a really fine line to walk with this horse, and it is constantly shifting. It's easy to either get sucked into a fight, or let her bebop along in order to avoid a fight altogether. I've been talking a lot lately about sweet talking her into being a lady, but I think I am probably just taking it too far. It's easy to fall into the trap of asking her to do something two or three times and being satisfied with her doing it on the third try after ignoring the first two, because she did it without killing anyone, but she really should be doing it right on the first try. I need to be a more proactive driver - I need to communicate with her better, and more. There needs to be a better running dialogue instead of just a few commands here and there.

After my second run through the test, we took another break and chatted for a bit about strategies for cones. We took a few pics too - note O the sweaty, sweaty beast after getting her butt handed to her for a few minutes:

We then ran through the cones course a few times. This was the first time I had gone through a cones course with them actually set to a competition distance, and it's crazy how tight they seemed! I need to practice at home for sure, or else I will be sorry! By this point, O was absolutely on her A game, briskly and smoothly gliding through every set of cones, taking a buttery soft contact and listening to every half halt. W nodded and said, "looks like a winning cones course to me!"

We finished our session with a walk down the driveway to cool out, complete with L's other mare galloping around like a total maniac. O was quite tired at this point, and would have been happy to walk down the driveway, but I could see her brain starting to leak out of her ears when the other mare went zooming around, so we went right back to the trailer when we were done and finished. 

Me: "Please whoa damnit"

Galloping palomino for added fun

Definitely lots to take away and think about. Lots and lots to think about! And lots and lots of work ahead of us! It was a great lesson and I am looking forward to the next one.

O was pooped on Wednesday, to nobody's great surprise. I caught her napping in her shed:

And even dreaming!:

Today I was going to drive her down the road for a bit, but unfortunately when I arrived in the afternoon, I found that she must have been laying in something that her skin reacted badly to. Her belly and one side was covered in HUGE hives!

My poor paper-skinned beast. She has tomorrow off anyway due to time constraints; hopefully by this weekend her bumps will be gone. 


  1. Minus the bucking part, I loved this post. Reading it really makes me want to come to one of your shows and take pictures!!

  2. I would really enjoy the tarantula weather, I love tarantulas! Such a feisty beautiful red mare.

  3. Wow, what a full lesson! Not going to lie, when you posted that adorable video of O sleeping, I thought someone had posted a video of my gelding!! It took a minute to realize it was O!

  4. O is so cute sleeping!! my mare doesn't run as hot as O, but i definitely know what you mean about getting tricked into being satisfied with less than brilliance bc she was 'quiet' about it. it's a fine line to walk!!!

    glad you had a great lesson and that the traveling cart system worked like a charm :)

  5. Those driving pictures are just so damn sophisticated. No way around it. Love them.

  6. You guys look so freakin good! What a fun lesson!

  7. Thanks for the lesson recap! I don't drive, but some of the tips are timely for me - I have a mare quite a bit like O and I also get sucked into accepting 'good enough' rather than pushing and risking a meltdown :) Sounds like you had a great lesson (minus the bucking of course)

  8. So awesome! I know nothing about driving so it's all fascinating to me. Very cool!

  9. Great post!! So many moments resonate with me. GREAT job all around. Hilarious description of Texas' seasons!

  10. Mare moment!!!

    I was actually going to email you, but of course I can't find your email address. Just wanted to let you know that Lauren Sprieser just ordered a Gogo Fatale browband. :-)

    And remind me to never visit Texas! I do NOT do tarantulas! In zoology, I had to go through the spider chapter and put post-its on all the pics because even the pics creep me out.

  11. Aww that dreaming video is adorable!! Other than the bucking that lesson sounds amazing!!! What a compliment on the cones! Is the damage to your cart very bad?